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Human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG or b-HCG)

Human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG or b-HCG) is a hormone normally produced by the placenta during pregnancy. It is also produced by certain cancer cells.

Why an HCG test is done

An HCG test may be done to:

  • confirm a pregnancy
  • help diagnose and monitor a person’s response to treatment for certain cancers
    • testicular cancer
    • gestational trophoblastic disease (cancer that develops from an abnormally fertilized egg)
    • germ cell tumours of the ovary
  • screen high-risk women for a rare type uterine cancer called choriocarcinoma

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How an HCG test is done

An HCG test is usually done in a private laboratory or hospital laboratory. No special preparation is usually needed.

  • HCG is usually measured by a blood test.
  • The sample is sent to a laboratory to be analyzed by special machines.

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What the results mean

An increased HCG may be due to:

  • non-cancerous conditions
    • pregnancy
    • some bowel diseases
    • duodenal ulcers
    • liver disease (such as cirrhosis)
  • certain cancers
    • testicular cancer
    • gestational trophoblastic cancers – mainly choriocarcinoma
    • ovarian cancer – particularly germ cell type
    • liver cancer
    • stomach cancer
    • pancreatic cancer
    • lung cancer
    • breast cancer
    • kidney cancer
    • brain cancer

In cancerous conditions:

  • A decrease in, or return to normal values of, HCG may mean that the cancer has responded well to treatment.
  • Anincrease may mean that the cancer is not responding well to treatment, is still growing or is coming back (recurring).
    • A slight increase may not be significant. The doctor looks at trends in the increase over time.

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What happens if a change or abnormality is found

The doctor will decide if more tests, procedures, follow-up care or additional treatment is needed.

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